As the saying goes, “you are what you eat,” so you want to make sure you’re fueling your body with enough of the right nutrients to stay happy, healthy, and active. However, there is a lot of misinformation out there about which healthy foods to eat more of and which to skip. To help you create a balanced, healthy diet, here’s a breakdown of six important nutrients and what they do for your body.
If you’re trying to lose weight, you might have tried going on a “low-carb” diet. But this popular dieting method gives all carbohydrates a bad name, when, in reality, eating enough “good” carbs is essential for a healthy mind and body. Examples of good carbohydrates include whole grains, vegetables, whole fruit, beans and legumes. These foods give your body the energy it needs to properly function.
“Bad” carbs, on the other hand, are usually highly processed and should be avoided whenever possible. Examples of this type of carbohydrate are white bread, pastries, French fries, and potato chips.
Fats are another nutrient that get a bad rap but are a necessary part of our diets. As with carbohydrates, the key is to eat the right amount of “good” fats and stay away from “bad” fats. Healthy fats like those found in avocados, walnuts, olive oil, and wild-caught salmon give your body energy, support cell growth, and create hormones like estrogen and testosterone.
Proteins are long chains of tiny molecules called amino acids, which are considered to be “the building blocks of life” for this very reason. Without them, your body wouldn’t be able to synthesize the proteins it needs to function properly. There are numerous different types of proteins throughout your body, each performing a specific function. Proteins are needed for cell growth and repair and the formation of antibodies, enzymes and hormones.
Healthy sources of protein include beans, nuts, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and meat. Try to limit red meat to no more than three times per week, however.
There are many types of vitamins that your body cannot produce on its own, so you need to obtain them from the foods you eat and, in some cases, the supplements you take in order to properly function. Some of the most common vitamins are:
- B complex vitamins, which include B12, B6, and folate. These vitamins help to increase energy, support good mental health, and create red blood cells.
- Vitamin C. A powerful antioxidant, vitamin C helps to support the immune system. Since it also plays a key role in collagen production, this vitamin promotes good joint and skin health as well.
- Vitamin D. Your body needs enough vitamin D in order to absorb calcium. Although vitamin D does not naturally occur in very many food sources, you can buy foods like orange juice, cereal, and milk that are fortified with this important vitamin.
- Vitamin E. Like vitamin C, vitamin E is a strong antioxidant, so it can help to support your immune system. It is also needed to help protect your nervous system.
Before starting a new vitamin regimen, talk to your doctor.
Like vitamins, minerals are a necessary component of your daily diet. They are needed for the normal growth and development of our cells, as well as breaking down food and absorbing other nutrients. Some of the most common minerals that your body needs include:
- Calcium. This is needed for strong bones and teeth. Make sure you’re also getting enough vitamin D so that your body can absorb the calcium it gets from food sources.
- Potassium. Potassium promotes muscle strength and keeps your heart, kidneys, and nervous system functioning properly.
- Sodium. Sodium is an electrolyte that humans do need to stay health. However, most of us end up getting too much of it through our regular diets. The FDA recommends that your sodium intake does not exceed 2,300 milligrams per day. For some people, though, the daily limit could be as low as 1,500 milligrams per day.
Flavonoids are the pigments in plants that give them their bright, vibrant colors. These compounds also happen to be very powerful antioxidants and therefore come along with a wide variety of health benefits. Try to eat fresh fruits and vegetables of all the colors of the rainbow to get as many different flavonoids in your diet as you can. Some research suggests that flavonoids may help to prevent coronary heart disease and maybe even cancer.